Senate Republicans Try Again On Tax-Free Savings for Education
Senate Republicans last week brought to the floor a proposal—twice vetoed in past years by President Clinton—that would allow families to contribute up to $2,000 annually to tax-free savings accounts they could draw on to pay for public or private school costs.
At press time, Senate backers were planning to hold a cloture vote on the bill early this week. Sixty votes are needed to invoke cloture, which would set a time limit on further debate before a final vote on the bill itself.
Sen. William V. Roth Jr. of Delaware, the chairman of the Finance Committee, acknowledged during floor debate the legislation's troubled history at the hands of the president.
"But we must not lose heart," he said. "We are here today to show our commitment to affordable education—and to enact what this body determines makes good sense for American families."
The bill, S 1134, the Affordable Education Act, has been slow in reaching the floor. It was approved by the Finance Committee in May 1999 by a 12-8 vote. However, a House version was contained in tax legislation that President Clinton vetoed last fall.
The president also vetoed legislation with the provisions in 1998.
The Senate bill's chief sponsors are Republican Paul Coverdell of Georgia and Democrat Robert G. Torricelli of New Jersey. The version approved in 1998 was backed by eight Senate Democrats.
The bill would raise the limit on annual contributions to education-savings accounts from $500 to $2,000 and expand the accounts' uses, now limited to higher education costs, so that tax-free withdrawals could be made for K-12 public and private school costs.
Opponents argue that the plan would help private schools at the expense of public schools.
"The congressional majority seeks again to divert critical resources needed in our public schools," Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley said in a prepared statement issued Feb. 23. "For the vast majority of our nation's students who are enrolled in public schools, S 1134 offers little or no practical benefit."
Vol. 19, Issue 25, Page 29